End-Of-Week Summary, Week Of June 10th

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Once upon a time there was darkness.

Once upon a time there was darkness. And somewhere, hidden in the darkness, was a voice. And the voice whispered, “Light.” And there was light. And in the light, there was Jimmy.

Jimmy was the youngest of nine children. Playing the second youngest of twelve was not a challenge. He was basically reenacting his typical day – full of God and music and brothers. He just had to add some dancing. And a coat. A colorful one.

As Jimmy sang and danced his way through a world flooded in light, there was a girl watching from the darkness.  And although the girl dreamed of one day being in the light, being a part of the creation of worlds day after day and night after night, the darkness did not scare her. It was familiar. She had spent quite a bit of time in the darkness. Sought it out, in fact. In the darkness of night, galaxies opened to her. In the darkness of theaters, worlds upon worlds were gifted to her. In the darkness of her closet, God met her.

She was in middle school – not yet a teenager but no longer a kid. The word “tween” hadn’t been invented yet, but if it had she probably would have rejected the designation. Categorization of people was not her thing. They were too complex for that. As soon as you started labeling and organizing and segregating them, the wondrous aura of mystery that surrounded them and gave them their personhood was dulled. The thing that made them more than things. That made them shine.

Middle school is a time of transition. It is no longer elementary school, but not yet high school. Charts with gold stars are replaced with assignment books. Gently spoken Don’t forgets are replaced with accusatory Why didn’t yous. Playmates you like make way for crushes you like-like. Even the body that has successfully gotten you through a dozen years of walking from A to B and communicating with the world at large is starting to betray you. You’re ganglier, clutzier, squeakier, fuzzier, and bumpier.

The girl felt all these things. And right in the midst of this confusion of not knowing who she is, who she is becoming, or who she wants to be, the adults in her life presented her with a selection of doors leading to a variety of eternities and said, “Choose.”

On Sunday mornings, the girl went with her family to services. On some Sundays, they went to a large building surrounded by grass and trees and with an interior what was simple but shone with glorious sunlight that entered through the large windows and bounced off the brilliant white walls. On other Sundays, they went to a small, stone building in the center of their one-horse town with a small cemetery just outside and the large stained-glass windows muting the sunlight so the candlelight could dance across the polished, wooden pews and deep, maroon carpeting inside.  At the one building there was kite flying and bunnies and acoustic guitars. At the other there was grape juice and bread and organ music. Inside both buildings they talked about The Book. But inside the first building they talked about other things, too. They talked about poems and rebirth and the earth and inclusiveness. Not in the way the second one did – as psalms and resurrection and a footstool and peoples of many nations – but as distinct sources of knowledge.

Because the second building was close to her school and easy for kids from her school to get to, she spent most of her Sunday nights at the stone building playing games and eating marshmallows and pizza with kids from her class. Some of them were her age. Some of them were older. Some she liked. Some she like-liked. She chose the second building. The second community. The community of her mother’s choosing. She turned her back on the building of her father.

The girl liked books. Books of poetry, books of fiction, books of facts, books of pictures, books of words, books for children, books for adults – she loved them all. But The Book? The Book stood out. It captured her imagination. There were other books about families, disasters, betrayals, romances, friendships, spies, miracles, and dragons. But most of these books were about only families or spies or dragons. The Book? The Book had all the stories. Its author didn’t seem to think it odd to place the telling of a nation’s history next to a collection of poems. Or a letter to a town next to a story about angels and multi-headed beasts. Or four stories about one man all together but all different. Or a story about the creation of all things inside the story of the creation of all things. It was an odd book, indeed, but she loved it. The more she read The Book the more she felt The Book had to tell her. It was as if it created and recreated itself as she read.

She did not talk about The Book with anyone. Not her mother. Not her father. Not her friends. Yes, they all knew that she read The Book in her weekday class at the second building; the class that would allow her to fully become a part of the community there. In the class, the girl and the other students read The Book part-by-part then answered questions about it in the big, brown binder the leader of the second building had given them. Just like doing science homework, or a book report.

If there was a lot of reading to do before one of these classes (some of the stories in The Book were long and detailed), the girl would read The Book while curled up on the sofa in the living room or splayed out on her bedroom floor next to her stereo. The same places where she read the other books in her life – the ones from the library in town or the library at school or the big pile of paperbacks in the corner of her parents’ bedroom where her father’s nightstand and dresser created a nook the girl could crawl into to explore the piles upon piles of books her parents stacked there.

But sometimes… sometimes the girl felt The Book beckoning to her. Whispering.

  • After a rain storm, a dove would begin to coo outside her window. Did the cooing of a dove comfort Noah every time he heard it after the flood?
  • Up many and many a marvelous shrine/ Whose wreathed friezes intertwine/ The viol, the violet, and the vine wrote Edgar Allen Poe in his poem The City In The Sea. Does this gravestone’s frieze purposefully invoke a trinity?
  • The girl’s history teacher said that Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne were falsely accused of being witches. We know the accusations were false because witches aren’t real. But witches and sorcerers and necromancers are mentioned in The Book. Why?
  • Was the place high on a desert plane/ where the streets have no name the city that was as wide and high as it was long and made of gold “as pure as glass”?
  • The girl saw a model of a DNA molecule. Learned about coding and RNA and mutations and cell replication. So much complexity. So much intricacy and delicacy. How could that come from a bang? Or a breath?

At these times, the girl needed to read The Book. To find what new mystery The Book was ready to reveal to her. What new question it would challenge her with. What new character she would meet that would shout from the pages, “Me, too!” But there was the problem of The Choice.

When the girl chose, she hadn’t simply chosen between two buildings. She had also chosen her mother’s beliefs over her father’s. Her mother over her father. Yes, her father’s building read The Book; talked about it. So did her father. But it was different. Not the same. To him, it was a book. Not The Book. It would have been at home in the nook in the corner of their bedroom. One among many, to choose or pass over for another equally fine.

So the girl went to the one place where she knew galaxies revealed themselves and worlds upon worlds had gifted themselves to her. She went into the darkness.

girl reading.png

She was not the first to discover God in a closet. Others had entered that world before her. That world where lions are not tame but are good. The girl did not meet the Lion-God while curled up in a blanket on the floor of her closet, The Book spread on her lap, flashlight in hand (she met him on the living room sofa in the brightness of a summer afternoon). She did meet the Breath-God, the Fire-God, the Word-God, the Man-God there. In the dark. She read in the dark and met shepherd kings and prostitute saviors, dancing bones and prophesying donkeys, fires that burn but don’t consume and angels that hold the winds of the earth in their hands.

She read in the dark because she loved deeply in the light.

Not the love the girl felt watching Jimmy sing and dance across the stage, giving a story from The Book flesh, movement, and song. That love was exciting and burned bright, but that was a passing, immature love. The love that forced her into the darkness was a deep-rooted love. One she felt with every glance, every hug, every grand gesture, every quiet grace.  It was a father’s love for his child. Like in The Book. But with flesh on. And the house lights up.

***

Fun fact:

Out of curiosity, I looked online to try and figure out when I saw this performance of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Jimmy Osmond (I have long misplaced the picture of Jimmy I had cut out of the newspaper and carried in my wallet for years after that performance) and not only was I able to find the date of the performance but I was able to find a review for the specific performance I attended! My inner teenager’s heart went pitter-pat! Here’s the review.

*This post was inspired by questions from the Reading Guide for the book Inspired: Slaying Dragons, Walking On Water, And Loving The Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

Happy Launch Day, “Inspired”!

Inspired CoverToday is launch day for Rachel Held Evans’ new book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, And Loving The Bible Again. 

I was privileged to receive an advanced copy to read and review and have shared my Goodreads review below. While I liked the book itself, I have found the Reading Guide to be of immeasurable encouragement and inspiration in my own spiritual practice. I will be sharing some of my Reading Guide motivated writing and insights here. Just click on the “Inspired” tag at the end of this post or in the Tag Menu above.  (Note: The Reading Guide was being offered as a pre-order add-on. Check back here or on Rachel’s site for information on where to order/ find the Reading Guide when it is available.)

I hope some of you will share your own Inspired inspirations in the comments. Links to your own posts would be wonderful!

Happy reading!

 

**********

 

3.5 Stars

*See update following original review*

After reading “Searching For Sunday” and meeting Rachel Held Evans at a church retreat where she shared excerpts from “Inspired” and led us through some exercises to help us explore the Bible with new eyes (she refereed to it as “VBS for adults”), I could not wait for the release of the book and was thrilled to be offered the chance to read a preview copy.

At the retreat, Ms. Evans explained and led us in the practices of (or close facsimiles of) Lectio Divina and Ignatian Spiritual Practice… both practices of studying the Bible through creative exploration and contemplation, frequently using writings, re-tellings, paintings, and other artistic interpretations. She even read one of her own such re-tellings (in the form of a short story) from “Inspired.” I was surprised, then, when there was no mention of these practices in the book. There *is* mention of the traditional Jewish practice of midrash – a similar, creative interpretive practice. However, while the book begins with one of these creative re-tellings (a 6-page short story), there is no mention of the practice of midrash until page 22. She spends the rest of this chapter (covering “Origin Stories” of the Bible) explaining the value of midrash and creative, playful exploration of the Bible.

The rest of the book follows this pattern, a creative exploration by the author (a story, screenplay, etc) followed by a more scholarly (but conversationally accessible) chapter exploring the writing genre of the Bible passage that has just been midrashed — but without any guidance of the midrash process. This makes the book feel a bit incongruous despite the strict adherence to the aforementioned pattern. It requires the reader to flip back and forth between various writing styles and genres with no transition. Maybe this was intended by the author (to mimic the various, abutting genres found in the Bible), but this was not made clear or announced in any way and made for slow reading.

I was also hoping for some instruction in how to perform such creative investigations myself. Scripture readings with writing prompts, challenges to use different types of creativity (poetry, short story, letters, sketches, etc), or even just a “now try writing your own short story based on this passage.”

Although there were no instructions for readers to perform their own investigations, the creative writings provided by the author were interesting to read and inspirational in and of themselves. They were an encouragement to me to continue doing such exercises and sharing them with others. I have been doing them in my head for years, but I can now see the value in recording and sharing my exploration and study with others.

It was also encouraging to hear someone express their own questions and doubts that reflect my own and to have them not be afraid of them but reinforce that approaching Scripture with not just my heart and soul but also my MIND is essential to my spiritual growth. In this respect, “Inspired” makes a natural follow-up to “Searching For Sunday.” And I understand why the author of “Searching For Sunday” would prefer to say, “I found a means of approaching the Bible that I have found valuable. Let me share my experience with you,” without dictating a new form of study (with its accompanying “rules”). I just wish that her fear of becoming one of *those* voices telling others how they *must* study and interpret Scripture hadn’t kept her from more actively *guiding* others in their Scriptural explorations.

*Update:

I was given the opportunity to read the Reading Guide that will be made available to accompany this book. If the introduction to the Reading Guide had been incorporated at the beginning of “Inspired,” it would have explained some of the disjointedness of the text and would have bumped my original rating to at least a 4, maybe a tad higher. It would still be shy of a 5 for some heavy-handedness on political issues (having some is fine, and actually welcome to provide some contextualization, but it went beyond that in my opinion) and because the flipping between creative exploration and more traditional analysis and scholarship interrupts the flow of reading. However, the Reading Guide greatly enhances the main text. I would love to have seen it integrated into the original and (again) it’s introduction included in the original text. (less)

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